Verse > Harvard Classics > Dante Alighieri > The Divine Comedy
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Inferno [Hell]
 
Canto XVII
 
 
ARGUMENT.—The monster Geryon is described; to whom while Virgil is speaking in order that he may carry them both down to the next circle, Dante, by permission, goes further along the edge of the void, to descry the third species of sinners contained in this compartment, namely, those who have done violence to Art; and then returning to his master, they both descend, seated on the back of Geryon.
 
 
“LO! the fell monster 1 with the deadly sting,
Who passes mountains, breaks through fenced walls
And firm embattled spears, and with his filth
Taints all the world.” Thus me my guide address’d,
And beckon’d him, that he should come to shore,        5
Near to the stony causeway’s utmost edge.
  Forthwith that image vile of Fraud appear’d,
His head and upper part exposed on land,
But laid not on the shore his bestial train.
His face the semblance of a just man’s wore,        10
So kind and gracious was its outward cheer;
The rest was serpent all: two shaggy claws
Reach’d to the arm-pits; and the back and breast,
And either side, were painted o’er with nodes
And orbits. Colours variegated more        15
Nor Turks nor Tartars e’er on cloth of state
With interchangeable embroidery wove,
Nor spread Arachne o’er her curious loom.
As oft-times a light skiff, moor’d to the shore,
Stands part in water, part upon the land;        20
Or, as where dwells the greedy German boor,
The beaver settles, watching for his prey;
So on the rim, that fenced the sand with rock,
Sat perch’d the fiend of evil. In the void
Glancing, his tail upturn’d its venomous fork,        25
With sting like scorpion’s arm’d. Then thus my guide,
“Now need our way must turn few steps apart,
Far as to that ill beast, who couches there.”
  Thereat, toward the right our downward course
We shaped, and, better to escape the flame        30
And burning marle, ten paces on the verge
Proceeded. Soon as we to him arrive,
A little farther on mine eye beholds
A tribe of spirits, seated on the sand
Near to the void. Forthwith my master spake:        35
“That to the full thy knowledge may extend
Of all this round contains, go now, and mark
The mien these wear: but hold not long discourse.
Till thou returnest, I with him meantime
Will parley, that to us he may vouchsafe        40
The aid of his strong shoulders.” Thus alone,
Yet forward on the extremity I paced
Of that seventh circle, where the mournful tribe
Were seated. At the eyes forth gush’d their pangs,
Against the vapors and the torrid soil        45
Alternately their shifting hands they plied.
Thus use the dogs in summer still to ply
Their jaws and feet by turns, when bitten sore
By gnats, or flies, or gadflies swarming round.
  Noting the visages of some, who lay        50
Beneath the pelting of that dolorous fire,
One of them all I knew not; but perceived,
That pendent from his neck each bore a pouch 2
With colours and with emblems various mark’d,
On which it seem’d as if their eye did feed.        55
  And when, amongst them, looking round I came,
A yellow purse 3 I saw with azure wrought,
That wore a lion’s countenance and port.
Then, still my sight pursuing its career,
Another 4 I beheld, than blood more red,        60
A goose display of whiter wing than curd.
And one, who bore a fat and azure swine 5
Pictured on his white scrip, address’d me thus:
“What dost thou in this deep? Go now and know,
Since yet thou livest, that my neighbor here        65
Vitaliano 6 on my left shall sit.
A Paduan with these Florentines am I.
Oft-times they thunder in mine ears, exclaiming,
‘Oh! haste that noble knight 7, he who the pouch
With the three goats will bring.’” This said, he writhed        70
The mouth, and loll’d the tongue out, like an ox
That licks his nostrils. I, lest longer stay
He ill might brook, who bade me stay not long,
Backward my steps from those sad spirits turn’d.
  My guide already seated on the haunch        75
Of the fierce animal I found; and thus
He me encouraged. “Be thou stout: be bold.
Down such a steep flight must we now descend.
Mount thou before: for, that no power the tail
May have to harm thee, I will be i’ th’ midst.”        80
As one, who hath an ague fit so near,
His nails already are turn’d blue, and he
Quivers all o’er, if he but eye the shade;
Such was my cheer at hearing of his words.
But shame soon interposed her threat, who makes        85
The servant bold in presence of his lord.
  I settled me upon those shoulders huge,
And would have said, but that the words to aid
My purpose came not, “Look thou clasp me firm.”
  But he whose succour then not first I proved,        90
Soon as I mounted, in his arms aloft,
Embracing, held me up; and thus he spake:
“Geryon! now move thee: be thy wheeling gyres
Of ample circuit, easy thy descent.
Think on the unusual burden thou sustain’st.”        95
  As a small vessel, backening out from land,
Her station quits; so thence the monster loosed,
And, when he felt himself at large, turn’d round
There, where the breast had been, his forked tail.
Thus, like an eel, outstretch’d at length he steer’d,        100
Gathering the air up with retractile claws.
  Not greater was the dread, when Phaeton
The reins let drop at random, whence high heaven,
Whereof signs yet appear, was wrapt in flames;
Nor when ill-fated Icarus perceived,        105
By liquefaction of the scalded wax,
The trusted pennons loosen’d from his loins,
His sire exclaiming loud, “Ill way thou keep’st,”
Than was my dread, when round me on each part
The air I view’d, and other object none        110
Save the fell beast. He, slowly sailing, wheels
His downward motion, unobserved of me,
But that the wind, arising to my face,
Breathes on me from below. Now on our right
I heard the cataract beneath us leap        115
With hideous crash; whence bending down to explore,
New terror I conceived at the steep plunge;
For flames I saw, and wailings smote mine ear:
So that, all trembling, close I crouch’d my limbs,
And then distinguish’d, unperceived before,        120
By the dread torments that on every side
Drew nearer, how our downward course we wound.
  As falcon, that hath long been on the wing,
But lure nor bid hath seen, while in despair
The falconer cries, “Ah me! thou stoop’st to earth,”        125
Wearied descends, whence nimbly he arose
In many an airy wheel, and lighting sits
At distance from his lord in angry mood;
So Geryon lighting places us on foot
Low down at base of the deep-furrow’d rock,        130
And, of his burden there discharged, forthwith
Sprang forward, like an arrow from the string.
 
Note 1. “The fell monster.” Fraud. [back]
Note 2. A purse, whereon the armorial bearings of each were emblazoned. According to Landino, our Poet implies that the usurer can pretend to no other honor than such as he derives from his purse and his family. The description of persons by their heraldic insignia is remarkable. [back]
Note 3. “A yellow purse.” The arms of the Gianfigliazzi of Florence. [back]
Note 4. The arms of the Ubbriachi, another Florentine family of high distinction. [back]
Note 5. The arms of the Scrovigni, a noble family of Padua. [back]
Note 6. Vitaliano del Dente, a Paduan. [back]
Note 7. Giovanni Bujamonti, the most infamous usurer of his time  [back]
 

CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors